How to have DEI Discussions in the Workplace with Fatima Dainkeh

Fatima Dainkeh drops in to chat about the value of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) discussions, how trust in a workplace is built, and why DEI strategies are dependent on a virtual, hybrid or in-person model.

Fatima is an expert on how to consciously foster a workplace culture as it relates to topics around racism, sexism, gender identity and the intersectionality of social identities. She's a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) facilitator and uses storytelling as a tool and platform for individuals and groups to connect with one another.

We recognize that our workplace is our microcosms of the general society, right? And so whatever is happening in our world is probably also going to be showing up in our workplaces. One of the main issues we're helping to solve is ‘why aren't workplaces working?'

Fatima Dainkeh, Learning and Development Manager, She+ Geeks Out

Fatima is here to really think about how people communicate with each other and the ripple effects those interactions can have

Fatima is the Learning and Development Manager at She+ Geeks Out, which is based in Massachusetts. They take a holistic approach in providing education and support for organizations to build a strong foundation of diversity, equity and inclusivity within their workplace.

She created a short film, Stories of Black Motherhood (2018). It centers around three mothers in Boston as they talk about the ways in which their lives have been affected by race, class, and gender, and how those topics also influence their feelings and fears about motherhood and the healthcare system in the US.

Fatima received a Master of Public Health in Community Assessment, Program Design, Implementation and Evaluation (CAPDIE) and Maternal and Child Health from Boston University School of Public Health. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and Anthropology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

For the complete discussion watch Fatima on Happily Live with Sarah Shewey, CEO and Founder of Happily, and read on for a teaser into some of the topics they touch on.

Some quick bites from Fatima

On being a diversity, equity and inclusion facilitator and what it means

I've been doing facilitation for close to a decade now, and so for those of you who aren't familiar with facilitation work it's basically a way to create space for folks to discuss any issue.

I specifically focus on diversity, equity and inclusion related issues and that's what I do at She+ Geeks Out and so part of me being a Learning and Development Manager is to critically think about what do our current programs look like, what's the content that we're offering, and how is that supporting not just individual contributors or our community members but also our client and companies. And so one of the key things we do at She+ Geeks Out is really thinking about how do we abolish inequity in the workplace?

We recognize that our workplace is our microcosms of the general society, right? And so whatever is happening in our world is probably also going to be showing up in our workplaces. One of the main issues we're helping to solve is ‘why aren't workplaces working?’ Why are they not working specifically and especially for marginalized identities or folks with marginalized identities. And what can we be thinking about, what can we be doing, what can we be changing to make sure that we're not just creating an inclusive culture, but we're also using an equity lens.

So what do our policies look like? Who's being supported, and who's not? Are we using language unintentionally or intentionally that might be making some employees feel marginalized? These are the questions that we help clients and companies answer and then provide them tips, tools and strategies to begin changing that culture.

On She+ Geeks Out, how they are expanding our understanding of gender and what the + means

When She+ Geeks Out was founded a lot of the work was supporting women in tech and tech adjacent. And so what would it look like to support these groups of people who are in tech spaces but aren't feeling as included or feeling like they're the only?

She+ Geeks Out has evolved to not just support women but anyone who identifies as a woman. But also really expanding beyond the binary when we talk about gender, right? And so She+ that plus is saying like ‘hey this is how we started out foundationally and we have expanded our understanding and idea of gender and are including brave and safe spaces for folks who might identify along the spectrum to come into our community events and spaces because we know that if we work on one type of inequality - like gender inequality - there's still so much more to do. We talk about this from an intersectional standpoint so we can't just talk about gender inequality without talking about homophobia, without talking about transphobia and racism and so forth so that plus really is bringing those concepts together and really you know highlighting intersectionality.

Fatima Dainkey Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Image: Fatima Dainkey. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi.

On how DEI discussions differ for a virtual workplace

It's not the easiest to facilitate virtually, it's not. Because we are talking about topics that are both personal and professional and when we're talking about identities or topics, like, privilege, power, oppression - it's sometimes hard to see what's happening behind the screen. Sometimes videos aren't on, sometimes you don't know someone's actually paying attention and I'm saying that to use that lens as a way of thinking about just working virtually in general, especially if you weren't working virtually before.

And so one thing that we've been thinking about as it relates to culture and how it's changed over time, it's first building trust, right? We often talk about trust being a key component to creating and maintaining inclusive workplaces and if you just started working somewhere and let's say you weren't part of the company until after they became remote, it's really hard to build trust with your manager or to even build trust with your colleagues.

And so what can we do virtually is really think about ‘what can we have conversations about during our one-on-one meetings? For example, what does it look like to have check-in? I know it's so easy to jump into business and say ‘okay what have we done? List all the tasks. Check them off’ And I always say, okay sometimes you might not have an opportunity to check-in, but if you do and when you do, do so, because there's so many things that can be happening in our personal lives that we're not aware of and because we're not in person and because body language is sometimes hard to take note of virtually.

It's so important to take a step back, even if it's five minutes, to say ‘hey, how are you doing? How's it going? What do you need support with?’ and so forth.

On why people are trusting brands more than the government these days

Part of trust is also holding ourselves accountable when you mess up and what we know is that that hasn't always been the case within government structures - at least for folks who have marginalized identities and so when that has happened over time and nothing has been done or we don't feel like adequate measures have been taken, you can see how people begin to look at corporates or businesses because perhaps they feel like the language feels inclusive they've been really transparent about their commitments.

We saw that since summer of 2020 a lot of companies have committed to anti-racist practices. I think there was a recent article that came out this year that said ‘hey let's do a check-in and check on all these companies that said they were going to do x y and z. Let's see how much they've done so far?’ So building trust a lot of times people say you have to earn trust, right? But also you have to show what you're doing and when we think about doing these workshops or supporting our clients one of the things we say is being very clear and intentional with the language right and so whether that's verbal you're just having a meeting virtually or you're typing up that email or you're responding to a social event or unrest that's happening in our society. I'm gonna be able to trust you because I know that one you're paying attention, you care and so these are pillars of trust where it's like, ‘okay you care about who I am as a being, at least, and I'm seeing that messaging.

On her short film, Stories of Black Motherhood

I work with an awesome company named Envision Productions and basically I was in grad school focusing on maternal child health and really looking at health inequities. And being in the classroom hearing folks say ‘hey black mothers or black birthing folks are dying and their kids are dying’ is a lot to take on as someone who identifies as a birthing person but also as a black woman.

And so I wanted to really dig into the data. We always talk about the numbers and it feels so generalizing and it makes black folks look like a monolith and it's like ‘what's the story’, right? What's actually happening within communities? What's supporting, you know, black birthing folks? To support their children and family and what's not supporting them? And so that's sort of what I wanted to get into and using storytelling as a tool to really amplify those voices because they're always there. And so I’m just a really strong believer of ‘what questions are we asking folks?’. And the mothers in that video were so amazing and being open and sharing their experience of being a black mother in Boston.

On why it’s so important to really consider what a change in workplace model (virtual, in-person or hybrid) means for employees and how to best handle a transition

We have to ask ourselves ‘who is benefiting from going back to the workplace? And who's benefiting from a hybrid model? And who's benefiting from a virtual model? And let's be fair, virtual workplaces have always existed before the pandemic. Folks have been figuring out how to develop and build and maintain awesome cultures in virtual workplaces, so it's not brand new - it's been done, it's possible. And if you find that you weren't virtual and you're thinking about going back into the workplace, the first question that we often ask is ‘can you, sort of, first check in with your employees?

I have been in contact with so many of my friends who said ‘hey, we just got a message from the company that said we need - we're going back to work next week, there was no discussion about it or, at least, with my colleagues or with my friends, it was just like made at the top level and there was no transition.’ It was, like, 18 months you've been out of the office, next week you will start and you'll be in the office five days a week...

You just don't do something for 18 months and then drop people in and expect everything to go back the same. We are social creatures and it takes time for us to build habits, so if we've been, sort of, getting used to virtual working and we are parents, we're caregivers, we're trying to figure out what's happening in a virtual world. It's going to take time to be just as effective if we were effective virtually and to feel like we can engage in that in the workplace.

So one thing we say is ‘what does it look like to have a soft transition?’ Meaning ‘okay, can we do a quick survey? Or, a really, you know, focus group? And to just see who wants to go back and who doesn't. If we find that most people are around the hybrid model, well, let's do a soft transition maybe - twice a week people can come into the office.

On a hybrid workplace model and how to facilitate inclusion and engagement

There's so much to consider and I'd say, you know, for the hybrid model finding ways to make sure that people still feel engaged. One of the things that a lot of companies talk about, especially if they were remote before the pandemic and then they became hybrid later, is that the virtual group doesn't get as much love.

So if you're not going into the office it's, like, you're missing out on the water cooler conversations or you're not being able to hang out with your colleagues. And so how can you merge that? How can you do games online, for example. And then have, like, in-person so that folks who are comfortable going in-person can do so, and folks who aren't or have other priorities, can also engage. So there's so so much to consider. I just think it's really important to get a pulse with employees first before making a decision like that.

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Here are links to resources and podcasts mentioned in this Happily Live: